Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Notes from a new era Duranie

It’s not "Rio." Nothing ever will be. I think the sooner the Duran Duran fan—avid or casual—gets over this simple truth of life, the better. And the closer one can get to judging Red Carpet Massacre, the band’s 13th studio album, for its own merits. From my casual perusal of reviews online, much was expected. Rumors abounded that guitarist Andy Taylor left the project because of the band’s decision to go with Nate “Danja” Hills and prominent hip-hop figure Timbaland as key co-producers.

To some extent, I can’t say I blame Andy. The tracks produced by Timbaland—-the tepid “Nite Runner,” which never takes off the ground, and the initially catchy but subsequently annoying “Skin Divers” (all fine until Timbaland opens his mouth)--are the weakest songs on the album. Unlike much of the population in my age group, I don’t understand what is so great about Timbaland. His productions are manufactured and their sound doesn’t last. Nelly Furtado’s “Maneater” grates on my nerves after repeated listens and “Sexy Back” is the worst track on an otherwise brilliant Futuresex/Lovesounds by Justin Timberlake.

Oh, but the reviews of Red Carpet Massacre were scathing. I don’t want to get into addressing them in detail, but they ranged from calling the music boring and ineffective to criticizing the band of being sleazy and side-men in their own show. Most brutally, more than one reviewer implied that it wasn’t a Duran Duran record. I could take it no longer. I had to defend the boys. Or at least find out for myself if the music was worth defending.

It is. Overall, it’s a superior production to 2005’s Astronaut. The title track “Red Carpet Massacre” rocks respectably, with more drums than I’ve heard in a Duran Duran song. The Timberlake/Duran Duran collaboration proves to be more successful. By far the strongest track on the album is the melodic “Falling Down.” I made the mistake of listening to this song first by watching the ridiculously decadent video, reminiscent of “Girls on Film” and little more than an excuse to be with pretty model girls (yes, I think it was inappropriate for Simon Le Bon, a 49-year old father of 3 teenage girls, to be doing this video). Duran Duran is forever guilty of exoticizing and sexualizing all women. It took several listens for me to realize “Falling Down” is on league with “Ordinary World” and quite possibly the best song Le Bon has written since then.

Simon--with a voice like liquid sex—sounds as amazing as ever, exactly as he did 25 years ago. I used to attribute a lot of Duran Duran’s creative success to Le Bon and creepy keyboardist Nick Rhodes (Nick is sleazy—that much I’ll admit). I still do. However, I think Le Bon is kind of the in-house poet. He writes all the lyrics and sings all the songs. I think Rhodes has always been the brains behind the band. And I don’t think he would have let anything go that he didn’t approve of, despite handing over the production of many of the songs to outsiders. Everything on the record retains the sound of Duran Duran. Some of it is quite reminiscent of The Wedding Album, Notorious, and hinting at the cold landscapes of “So Red the Rose”(produced under the name Arcadia due to legal issues around the Duran Duran name at the time), and even “Rio.”

Let’s face it. “Rio” was a unique convergence of youth, sexual frustration, and a specific period in musical history. Duran Duran was a quintet of cerebral, artsy, geeky guys, who essentially brought disco into the 1980s. “Rio” unfolds in gorgeous narrative fashion, chronicling desperate encounters with cold, distant, and dismissive women—chase, capture, and ultimate rejection. Duran Duran made this record while still in their early 20s. “Rio” sky-rocketed them into fame. What do you do after that? There is nothing they have to prove to the world. The frustration that drove those early songs was gone. Le Bon successfully courted supermodel Yasmin Parvaneh (one of my favorite women aesthetically speaking), marrying her when she was barely 21 and he barely 27—and they are nearing a quarter-century of marital bliss.

Red Carpet Massacre is a tongue-in-cheek criticism of the way in which celebrities of today self-destruct, with the bottom line message being that they really have no excuse. Duran Duran has been singing about fame since Seven and the Ragged Tiger, a sexy record about drive and ambition, climbing to the top and wanting more. Duran Duran survived their fame with considerable grace relative to their massive success, and for that, I think they have every right for making this social commentary of decadence and moral decline.

I think the essential problem for me is this—when Duran Duran came out onto the scene, they were fresh and innovative, taking music that was on their heels and propelling it into future—giving us a sound unlike anything we’d ever heard before. I want to hear something entirely new again. But that’s really too much to expect from a band that’s already left an indelible mark on the world of music.

I’ve given up on expecting a “Rio” for my generation from anyone. It’s very possible that rock/pop/hip-hop is nearing the fringe end of an era—what lies next is the question . . .

Because I really don’t want you to watch the video for “Falling Down,” satisfy yourself with this:

It’s just as ridiculous, but I can forgive it for being the 80s . . .

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Rejection Served Up Three Different Ways

Jane Austen’s use of free indirect speech in her novels often allows the reader a certain amount of flexibility in imagining dialogue, tone, and delivery. This effect differs from a play because our imaginations of what is being said and how will vary considerably.

There is a scene in Austen’s Pride and Prejudice where Elizabeth Bennett rejects Mr. Darcy’s initial proposal of marriage. It’s simultaneously serious and hilarious.

Filmmakers have portrayed this scene in a number of ways. Three analyzed here are the adaptations starring Laurence Olivier and Greer Garson (Robert Leonard, 1940), the BBC version with Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle (Simon Langton, 1995), and the most recent one with Keira Knightley and Matthew Macfadyen (Joe Wright, 2005).

In the oldest of the three versions, Laurence Olivier’s acting is stiff and wooden. His movements are the epitome of awkwardness. His delivery in the particular scene is flowery and his tone is pleading, but he displays the attitude of a man who’s quite sure he’s going to get what he wants eventually. Garson’s delivery comes off as being forced, and her demeanour is altogether too distant and aloof. The chemistry between the two is also quite lacking. The scene is romantic in its own way (no doubt due only to Olivier’s dashing good looks), but completely outdated for modern audiences and I daresay, outdated even for the Regency era. What lacks here is the humor and wit in Austen’s own writing. It’s definitely funny, but for the wrong reasons.

The costumes are also all wrong. Greer Garson looks like a Southern belle. What happened to the empire-waist gowns?

Secondly, there is the BBC version, considered by many fans to be the definitive one and the truest to Austen’s novel. As a television miniseries, the pace is slower, which works well for the dialogue. It allows a more concerted and episodic movement of events. The downfall is that it looks very much like a miniseries. The costumes are also extremely light-colored. I am not sure if this is historically accurate for country wear of the era, but it is definitely difficult on the eyes and at times, looks like a commercial for Tide with Bleach.

The scene is masterful. Both Ehle and Firth do such a marvelous job. Out of our three Darcy’s, Firth really does appear to understand his character the best. The (sexual) frustration and angst on his side is right on point. The nuances of his emotional restraint are quite remarkable. Firth is an underrated actor. Most importantly, the scene is really funny. If you’re not in tears of laughter by the end of it, then you’re not watching it properly. Firth has an exceedingly good grasp of the language and Ehle’s eye movements are perfect.

The most recent version, starring Keira Knightley and Matthew Macfadyen takes the most liberty with this scene. The director takes the scene out of a stuffy parlor room into the verdant outdoors. The power of it relies on the periphery of what’s going on & the body language rather than the actual words. Neither Knightley nor Macfadyen do the words justice, delivering them in a very rushed manner, almost as if they can’t wait to finish and just get out of the rain. It’s the most cinematic of the three and the most serious. Darcy’s anger is quite palpable. The use of rain is surprisingly not clichéd.

This scene is very tense—Darcy and Elizabeth are all out fighting with each other. It’s a real conversation, not a pre-meditated delivery of speeches. It’s the only version of the scene among these three where it’s about her as much as it is about him. They’re about to kiss at the end, and he decides against it. Or rather, propriety would have forbidden it.

The costumes look like clothes one can live and move in.

However Lizzy Bennett may have rejected Darcy the first time around, I guess the important thing is, she accepts him the second time around . . . but that’s much less interesting.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

A few laps, lay-ups, and complete passes and I'm Done

Adam Duerson contemplates the current status of the sports movie in the December 17, 2007 issue of Sports Illustrated magazine.

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Asking whether or not "the perceived need to appeal to women--and overseas markets [has] doomed the sports flick," Duerson begins his piece, "Endangered Species," by remarking that "Will Ferrell! On Figure skates! For better or how sports movies in the year 2007 will be remembered" (26).

After providing some box office numbers, he wonders, "where are the Hoosiers and the Raging Bulls?" and then adds, "the reality is that it's not nearly as easy to make a sports movie as it used to be. With movie attendance in the U.S. dropping, the new Hollywood business model relies more heavily on foreign receipts."
The problem with this method is that according to Mark Ciardi, "there's no foreign [earning] on sports movies" overseas.

In addition to how unenthusiastic other countries are for American sports movies, Duerson argues that "there's the prevailing notion in Hollywood that women choose which movies couples see together but that only men are drawn to sports films." Duerson gets veteran sports film marketing man Jeff Freedman to comment on the situation, which is basically that a sports film can only be made if the sport is secondary to thematic and other narrative elements. In other words, "the first thing a studio to say it's a love story, or a father-son story."

He includes an unnamed Hollywood marketing professional's observation that "if somebody wanted to make Raging Bull today, I don't know that it could happen" because "it's too dark." Duerson's article then implicitly criticizes Hollywood's multiplex complex as a limitation to the production and wider distribution of sports films that possess artistic qualities on par with dramas and action films. To get funding or a distribution deal, filmmakers are "plugging away with the same old sports comedy-drama-romance hybrids." He then cites the Will Ferrell basketball comedy Semi-Pro and George Clooney's period comedy Leatherheads as 2008's sports film offerings.

Duerson closes his thoughts by pointing out that independent sports cinema may inspire the critics and are received well at film festivals, but distributors aren't convinced the general public will buy it.

As a one-page article, Duerson understandably doesn't have the space to delve deeper into the issues and examples he brings up as indicating the steady decline of the sports film. I'm going to attempt to contextualize or offer some more points to ponder. Duerson's three concerns are profits, audience, and distribution. Ultimately, though, it's one issue: money. Whether or not a movie is to be made depends on how much money it could make. Hollywood is a business and has always operated along the paradigm of telling stories the audience will purchase (with or without encouragement from the studios). Artistic innovations and creating the impression or building the mythology that making movies (and any art form for that matter) privileges the art above else is realistically speaking wishful thinking.

The example of Raging Bull as a sports film of quality and not just a guilty pleasure (entertainment) needs a bit more background explanation. Kevin J. Hayes articulates in the introduction of Cambridge Film Handbooks' edition on the film that "superlatives abound whenever people talk about Raging Bull. Not only is it an exemplary cinematic work, it is also a cultural icon representing a rich cross section of themes, issues, and characters that reflect American culture in ways that typical Hollywood films do not" (1). Wouldn't you say that the bulk of commercial, mainstream American films today don't come close in this respect? Hayes later adds, "Raging Bull owes an important debt to the heritage of the boxing film genre" and boxing itself (10).

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Culturally, Scorsese's film was conceived in an atmosphere that allowed it to be brought into the world. Its examination of masculinity, violence, and the notion of loss isn't what would keep a studio head or a distribution company today from a greenlight. Instead, it's about the way the entertainment industry has changed post-highspeed internet and DVD. The idea of diversification of markets isn't new to advertisers. Merchandising of characters in films and books aren't limited to the movies and the publishing industry. Dialogue and images from a film can be found in all consumer markets (ahem, George Lucas). Cross-stitching the music with the movie industry isn't new either. Elvis. Frank Sinatra. Louis Armstrong. Barbara Streisand.

The difference now is that the internet is a new medium through which music, moving images, and literature can circulate. The behaviors and the tendencies (and preferences) of the buying public (which is primarily teenagers) is devastatingly significant in determining how to make the most amount of money (over a short or long period of time). If the sports film (as a drama) today can't narratively or thematically be similar to those of earlier generations for reasons of economy rather than artistry, it's happening across the board. Outside independent cinema, studios have little motivation to make movies--they want to make franchises (that include video game tie-ins).

And, if you want originality in content and form, you might not find it in a movie theatre. You might have to turn to Youtube or an art gallery.

I don't think it's that unfortunate that studio heads have to view sports films as not being sports films. Thematically, they're about more than whatever sport is involved. These films are about relationships between people, self-discovery, and hope, or, in other cases, defeat. Instead of employing the motif or metaphor of a soldier or an artist, these movies elect the athlete.

Adam Duerson, if you're reading this entry, when I make my football movie, it should be a sign of better things to come. Mine won't be a sports romantic comedy.

I'm cognitively wiped out right now. I'll revisit this post again.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

I Have No Desire to Be Kissed By You or Anyone Else

Jo Stockton (Audrey Hepburn) spoke those words to Dick Avery (Fred Astaire) seconds after he kissed her in the bookstore where she worked in Stanley Donen's 1957 musical Funny Face. He replied with, "Don't be silly. Everybody wants to be kissed--even philosophers."

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Shortly after he leaves the store, she sings "How Long Has This Been Going On?"

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Jo muses, "I was taught that I ought not expose my inner senses. Had no plan for a man, I was full of self-defenses. Now I feel that I really must face the consequences. My philosophic search, has left me in a lurch. I must find why my mind is behaving like a dancer. What's the clue to pursue for I have to have the answer? I could cry salty tears, where have I been all these years? How long has this been going on?"

In other words, Jo's intellectual pursuits have somehow side-tracked her interest in or perception of physical intimacy. For the normative audience, for people who subscribe to the dominant fiction (house, wife, two kids, half a dog), which is the majority of society, wanting to be kissed, held, caressed, and deflowered is about as natural as breathing and as expected as the aspirations to change the world. True, not everyone believes in marriage or has any conscious aim to find a spouse (even own a house, have the kids, or half a dog), but most of these people still crave that kiss, touch, and passion--love as expressed through physical intimacy (or in some cases physical intimacy without any emotional investment).

Nonetheless, there are individuals living amongst the normative-loving citizens who desire one but not the other or neither. They still want emotional closeness but have no interest in the joining of two bodies such that reproduction might occur if precautions are not taken. Or, they crave neither emotional nor physical bonding. Solitary creatures to the core.

Preferring to be alone isn't a problem. It's not that uncommon (observations across various discussion boards across the internet), but it goes against the dominant fiction. Loners tend to be romanticized in narratives that involve mysterious, tall, dark, and handsome strangers or the gunfighter heroes of the Old West.

Sociologically speaking, it makes sense that society's members agree upon what is right and what is wrong. A concept of courtesy, consideration, and that stealing and killing is wrong (and illegal) is designed to provide structure and monitor human behavior. Believing that certain kinds of killing is more acceptable than others (due to context or parties involved) is fine. We have to support this view, otherwise killing in self-defense would mean absolutely nothing in a court of law (not to mention what occurs during war times and sting operations).

Anyone who strays too far from the acceptable philosophical and intellectual areas surrounding the act and consequence of causing or contributing another person's death, in other words they might actually kill for sport, is deemed "abnormal." Something surely is wrong with an individual who would want and choose to kill someone else for fun. These people need to be stopped.

Not wanting to feel someone from the inside should be the last item on society's "To Do" list. Unfortunately, the human species (and thus society) survives solely because of sex, dating, and intellectually speaking, marriage. Society is able to replicate its norms and mores not simply because they're passed down orally or graphically (or unconsciously), but also because of the recreation of certain stories. Boy doesn't exclusively meet girl (or in the non-heteronormative version, boy/girl doesn't exclusively meet boy/girl) in the romantic comedy. They meet in action films, dark comedies, film noir, action, mystery-suspense, and horror/thriller. Love subplots don't always have to end in or be about sex, but they frequently are--because more characters in films already have friends. Or, if they don't, they have some kind of friend surrogate (co-worker, law enforcement partner, boss, teacher, religious leader). They either search for or stumble upon what they don't have. Conventional society determines this lack must be someone to have kids with--even if nobody wants kids.

Aside from any ideological, neurological, or psychologically motivated differences that would lead to committing crimes, people who think and behave differently have always had to deal with the same kind of questions and criticisms (Galileo). There's a pretty big range of what is considered normal and abnormal and for some reason, little to no desire to copulate or express affection through physical intimacy is the weirdest of them all.

Funny Face is my favorite musical. Despite its indication that emotional and physical connection trumps an intellectual one, the message is still that a real connection trumps a fake one. That Jo Stockton suddenly becomes aware of physical sensations is ostensibly incidental and operates primarily to complement the plot.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

World AIDS Day

On World AIDS Day, today, please take a moment to remember the people living and those that have been lost to the most devastating plague of our time.

In case you were wondering, here are the latest stats.

As we near an election season, please consider candidates who are promising to respond to the global and domestic HIV/AIDS crisis in their first term. You can read more about individual candidates proposals and policy positions here.

And you can read what a coalition of AIDS groups thinks is the necessary US response here.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Chris D: Over to Home You Crashed I Breakdown Again All Now

Aside from the network television I still watch (Numbers, CSI: New York, and football), I've pretty much stepped back from segments of American pop-culture. Specifically, American music. Ever since I was introduced to Korean pop music in 1998, I stopped listening to (new) American tunes. I still kept up with artists I liked, but over the years since then, I've grown increasingly "unaware" of the Top 40s artists.

I did watch a few seasons of American Idol and randomly watched it in its later manifestations. Chris Daughtry's face (and skull) I noticed once while channel surfing.

With the exception of a few youtube videos, though, I hadn't watched enough of him to remember his voice. And then last night on Criminal Minds, this song played near the end of the episode ("About Face") that melodically and somewhat vocally reminded me of Dishwalla, one of my favorite bands of the 90s. After some investigating, I discovered that the song is "Home" by (Chris) Daughtry. I looked up more youtube videos and decided to get it today.

Here's the song:

Arguably, the entire album is derivative but effectively radio-friendly, but it consists of exactly the kinds of melodies that I like in slowish rock tunes. There's a haunting and sad--but not otherworldly--quality. See below:

Originally posted atSthemingway.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Working through Widescreen: David Bordwell on Cinemascope

David Bordwell's observations and arguments on filmmaking have danced across, spun into, and consumed the brains of cinephiles and just about every university student who has taken a class on film theory or history.

He spoke at Emory University, my alma mater, today. Excluding the students who had to or were strongly encouraged (extra credit) to attend his lecture, I wouldn't be surprised if at least half of the remaining audience members were there as a fan or at least an intellectual admirer of his work.

I reviewed his book The Way Hollywood Tells It this past spring for my historiography seminar and had read most of The Classical Hollywood Cinema for the same class.

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I bought Bordwell's book Figures Traced in Light after the talk today, and I got him to autograph it and draw me a tropical fruit blossom.

John Orr reviewed it for Senses of Cinema, which you can find here.

David Bordwell is a very engaging speaker; and I daresay I'm more inclined to believe or agree with his views if he were to tell them to me rather than if I were to read those thoughts.

The lecture he gave was on Cinemascope and the ways in which Hollywood filmmakers of the 1950s had to negotiate filming and telling stories as effectively as possible and with new technology. His presentation included a wealth of screen captures that illuminated and bolstered his analysis. Bordwell noticed three primary methods that Hollywood directors dealt with having to make movies with cameras fitted with widescreen lenses and that would be seen in theatres with modified projectors.

A: Direct in rows, fill horizontal space.

B: Choreograph actors' movements such that depth-of-field and diagonal lines would complement whatever narrative and thematic priorities a particular shot or scene demanded.

C: Design the shot or scene anticipating a cropping out of significant vertical space (the areas at the top and bottom of the screen). Close-ups of faces would probably not be too flattering in this case.

Now when I (re)watch American films from the 1950s, I'm going to pay closer attention to where the actors are standing and how they move through space and which of the aforementioned techniques is implemented. In fact, I'm going to have to watch Knute Rockne, All American and Jim Thorpe, All American again and consider how the actors and football game-play are filmed vis-a-vis the absence of widescreen.

David Bordwell definitely has the look of a scholar, though not exclusively of film. He could pass for an anthropologist, an economist, a physicist, and even a criminologist. For a glimpse, click here, scroll all the way down, and look left.

pix creds:

Originally posted at Sthemingway.

Friday, September 28, 2007

So If More Women Ruled the World....

would history be less likely to repeat itself? Or would nothing get done because heads of state would be to busy advising and reminding each other, "remember the last time this happened?"

Fresh from Yahoo News.

Why Women Worry So Much

Andrea Thompson
LiveScience Staff Writer Fri Sep 28, 12:15 PM ET

Scientists have known that on the whole, females of all ages tend to worry more and have more intense worries than males. Women also tend to perceive more risk in situations and grow more anxious than men.

Now we know why.

Women are more likely than men to believe that past experiences accurately forecast the future, according to two new studies.

The research, involving both 3- to 6-year-olds and adults of both genders, tested the extent to which participants' thought that worry can be caused by thinking that a bad event that happened in the past could happen again in the future. (This skill, in its simplest form, is critical to social understanding as it is important to making decisions and assessing risk.)

Females, both children and adults, were more likely to use uncertainty to explain the character's reaction, that is, they tended to explain the reaction in terms of events that might happen versus those that will happen, the researcher reported. They also tended, more than males, to predict that the characters who encountered the new character who looked similar to the wrongdoer would feel worried because they thought the new character would also do them harm.

The studies, detailed in the Sept./Oct. issue of the journal Child Development, also found that children increasingly made these kinds of past-to-future connections as they got older, which yields insight into their cognitive development*.

"These results are significant because they reveal that knowledge about the impact of past-to-future thinking on emotions and behaviors develops during the preschool years," said study author Kristin Lagattuta of the University of California, Davis.

*bolded for emphasis. This result must be important to criminologists and theorizing why some people break the law and others don't. No wonder some individuals grow up thinking all women are evil and others believe all men are evil.


Original study: Why Women Worry So Much.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

The Dark Side of Social Networking

So everyone has heard about the risk people take on the Internet. From female bloggers being threatened, to children being approached by pedophiles, to people encouraging the desperate to commit suicide for their own sick pleasure; what people do in the digital world may very well be more depraved than the one outside our computers.

Throughout history there have always been the dark, horrific corners of human existence, where atrocities are committed in underground circles that would shame our very existence. Then again, we should also be appalled at the things we have done in broad daylight in front of crowds of gleeful onlookers (lynchings, executions, stoning, genocidal mass murders, to name a few...).

But for the average Internet user who checks their email daily, visits a favorite site or two, or peruses eBay, the online world seems no more threatening than a trip to the mall or a conversation with a friend.

But what if the site you were using to share pictures of your birthday party or to look up old high school crushes was deciding what content it felt was appropriate or deserved removal.

"Fine," you'd say. "Seems pretty standard to me. I don't want to see porno or skeezy people on Facebook."

If only that were true. A blogger I know recently wrote about how Facebook banned a woman who had posted a picture of herself breastfeeding her child. Meanwhile, the site continues to allow anti-Islam, antisemitic, and other hate groups, not to mention (thank you DW) more than 350 pro-anorexia groups.

And of course, the "Facebook spokesperson" didn't have any justification for the organization's actions, other than pointing to the fact that the pictures violated the site's Terms of Use.

I can think of any number of dystopian novels that have warned us of the very threat sites like Facebook present to their users.

We are offered a safe, enjoyable environment to pass the time, at the expense of our values. I would rather Facebook did no monitoring at all then focus on "pornography" and allow hate groups to flourish.

You might say freedom of speech and differing opinions, no matter how distasteful, must be respected--that Facebook cannot be held accountable and should not judge others for their views. But Facebook's own terms of use require they enforce some kind of site moderation. And its not what our Constitution views as freedom of speech, its what Facebook does:

A user cannot "upload, post, transmit, share, store or otherwise make available any content that we deem to be harmful, threatening, unlawful, defamatory, infringing, abusive, inflammatory, harassing, vulgar, obscene, fraudulent, invasive of privacy or publicity rights, hateful, or racially, ethnically or otherwise objectionable.” [emphasis added]

So Facebook doesn't mind hating people, but it sure as hell doesn't like the idea of a woman breastfeeding. What balderdash. I rarely use that word, but I think it fits.

But only if you are breastfeeding....

Friday, September 21, 2007

Gracie: You Wish I Was Born a Boy, Don't You?

Gracie (David Guggenheim, 2007) played in theatres in Atlanta, GA for less than a month. I was going to watch it then but didn’t get around to it.

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Well, it’s now available to rent at Blockbuster and to buy at your favorite neighborhood mega-entertainment store or online retailer.
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Loosely drawn from the childhoods of actors Andrew Shue and Elizabeth Shue, Gracie combines the models of sports inspirational and coming-of-age to tell the story of a young girl (Carly Schroeder) who finds a way to convince “society” to let her do what she loves the most in the whole world: play futbol.

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Andrew Shue explains in the making-of featurette that for the past ten years, he has wanted to make an underdog movie about futbol. I believe the director adds that the film was originally supposed to focus on a father-son relationship but eventually became one about a father and a daughter. Having just lost their oldest son (who was a naturally gifted futbol player) to a collision with a drunk driver, Lindsay (Elizabeth Shue) and Bryan Bowen (Dermot Mulroney) try the best that they can to raise the rest of their kids: Mike (Hunter Schroeder), Daniel (Trevor Heins), and Gracie.

As the film reveals, this endeavor consists primarily of Gracie wanting her father to coach and train her so that she can play futbol for the varsity boys’ team in the next school year and help them defeat Kingston, the school that her brother Johnny (Jesse Lee Soffer) played against in the beginning of the film–the last game he would ever play. Gracie’s dad isn’t very keen on the idea. Initially, his less than lukewarm support is due to the gender excuse–girls aren’t tough enough, girls shouldn’t have to risk injury. Over time, however, the hesitation is fueled by his own doubt in her ability and belief in herself. Thematically speaking (within the sports-inspirational framework), Gracie aims to express its protagonist’s psychological journey from sulking teenager to futbol player.

Overall, despite the metaphorical purpose futbol serves (sports provide structure and an outlet for frustration), Guggenheim’s film is less of a sports film and more of a coming-of-age film. You could take the futbol out and replace it with singing, painting, writing, musical instrument-playing, horseback riding, or even chess, and whatever that activity might be would still function in the same way narratively and thematically.

After all, there are only two futbol games (one at the beginning and one at the end), two proper practices (tryouts for the varsity team and a drill session for the junior varsity team), and half a dozen or so sequences where Gracie practices by herself, with her dad, or with other characters (with or without the presence of a ball). Moreover, at least forty-five minutes of the ninety-five minute-long film address Gracie’s inner struggles. The person that meant the most to her is dead, her own father might as well wish that she was born a guy, and social pressures of being an alluring teenage girl just get in the way of a meaningful existence, which may not even be attainable anymore.

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The futbol element, though, is necessary because the film’s 1978 setting compels the inclusion of certain culturally revolutionizing events and mentalities. Gracie might not enunciate explicitly the words “women’s liberation,” there are discussions, dialogue pieces that confront the issue of whether or not a female is physically and mentally capable of participating in rough (boy) sports. More importantly, though, is the spotlight on Title IX. On the one hand, its place within the narrative and the performance of the particular scene comes off as slightly “convenient” or, if I felt like being mean, a wee bit corny. On the other hand, its appearance in the film makes absolute sense and is essential. I also have to point out that she spends the night in her brother's room (the second night after she and her family learn of his death), and she wakes up determined to play futbol. I'm very glad the director didn't feel the need to have Gracie cut her hair short.

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The futbol also allows Gracie to sort out a conflict with one of the varsity players in a considerably satisfying way. It might be indirect payback, but it’s dual-layered. I don’t want to say more about it–you should just watch the film.

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All right, now on to the aesthetics of filmed futbol. Some of these thoughts are from one of my LJ entries. I haven’t watched much televised futbol, but I did watch a couple of the World Cup games from June 2006, including the match between South Korea and France. As the game progressed, I started thinking about its aesthetic and functional differences with other team sports. I tend to get bored with futbol, which it doesnt make sense because I like hockey. As I’ve probably articulated before, hockey and futbol are basically the same game–they just have different uniforms and gear.

Compared to football, futbol is more fast-paced. The ball is constantly moving, but so few goals are ever scored, and it commonly takes a long time for numbers to go on the score board. After fifteen minutes of game-play, a football team could get 21 points (three touchdowns and one field goal), while a futbol team might scored 1 point (one goal). With football, although the action of the game-play lasts a few seconds to a couple minutes, and repeats for four quarters, something about it is easier for me to enjoy.

Futbol doesn’t excite me as much or make me happy because it’s ideologically, it’s more blatantly maximum effort, minimum results. The players are running back and forth, blocking and kicking…and after thirty minutes of game-play, there may not have been any goals scored. I realize that two quarters of football can go by without anyone making a touchdown or a field goal; and even if no interceptions or fifty yard+ drives are made, the aesthetics of the game-play still make me smile. Should I thank the TV network’s production staff for that feeling?

Probably. Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket
Advertizers must prefer football because there are more places for commercials. ^0^

When I was watching the South Korea vs. France game, I observed that most of the game-play was filmed from a high-angle, long shot perspective, probably because any other angle or shot scale would undermine the speed at which the players were running. Televised instant slow-motion replays were incorporated less frequently. When they were employed so that the commentator could discuss the previous sequence (whether or not a goal was made or if a deflected ball should be counted as a goal given where it was deflected), the instant replay footage itself wasn’t necessarily so great because the cameramen didn’t capture it from an optimal angle.

The two games in Gracie were filmed on a field that didn’t have any line markings aside from the boundaries of the playing stage itself and the area in front of the goal posts/nets. I don’t recall there being any high–angle points-of-view other than a couple of crane shots from behind and over the goal nets. Theoretically, then, it’s possible or arguable that editing a futbol sequence is less headache-inducing than a football sequence, assuming that each editor has sufficient, equal amounts of coverage (wider shots where the entire field is visible, medium shots of players’ in motion, close-ups of feet, hands, and faces). Match-on-action cuts would be just as time-consuming and would require near obsessive-compulsive attention to detail, but as far as ordering a series of game-play, the futbol movie editor has got to be much less stressed than the football movie editor.

I won’t talk any more about the film’s plot trajectory, because I want you to see it for yourself, but I do want to present the following:

Lessons That Gracie Teaches:

1. Don’t ever discourage your daughter (or sister or girlfriend or niece) from participating in traditionally male athletic activities for fun or for sport. If she wants to try out for a school or the local town/county/state team, let her and support her. Otherwise, she could adopt the ways of the stereotypical, anti-authority male–and that’s no picnic. Worry about the intersection of athlete-and-trouble-maker when/if it happens.

2. Don’t ever tell a female she can’t do something just because she isn’t male. You’ve seen the films where a male is told he isn’t smart/fast/strong enough to accomplish something and what does he do? He does just about everything he can do prove his critics wrong. Imagine what a female who gives a flying frappuccino would do if she were told that it is solely her sex and gender that makes her inadequate. I wouldn’t want to be the one to have doubted her.

3. Expectations are placed equally on young men and women to behave a certain way (with each other or with society) and to develop interests in particular activities. As Lindsay Bowen tells Gracie near the end of the film, after having experienced another setback, something along the lines of “you can limit yourself if you want to, but don’t let other people do it for you.” On the flip side, don’t feel obliged to be like everyone else or what they assume you’ll be. Be what you want to be… long as no laws are broken in the process.

Doesn’t she almost look like a field goal kicker for a football team? The back cover of the DVD offers an even more convincing pose.
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Notice how Gracie is sitting in the middle of the cheerleaders and the other futbol players.
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Gracie rated PG-13 for brief sexual content.

The stunts crew consists of Jared Burke, Blaise Corrigan, Stephen Mann, and Anthony Vincent.

Dan Metcalfe is the futbol coordinator. Andrew Shue and Elizabeth Shue both grew up playing soccer, so they undoubtedly contribued to the futbol sequences.

For more information on Title IX, please visit its official site here.

pix cred: yahoo movies &

Originally posted at Sitting Pugs.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

A Sad Day for the Body Shop

Body Shop founder Anita Roddick dies

By D'ARCY DORAN, Associated Press Writer Mon Sep 10, 10:16 PM ET

LONDON - Body Shop founder Anita Roddick, who used her international cosmetics chain to promote eco-friendly practices long before they were widely fashionable, died Monday night after suffering a major brain hemorrhage, her family said. She was 64.

Roddick, known as the "Queen of Green," was lauded around the world for trailblazing business practices that promoted environmentalism and other causes dear to her heart, from human rights to Third World debt relief.

"Businesses have the power to do good," Roddick wrote on the Web site of the company, which was bought by the French company L'Oreal Group last year for $1.14 billion.

The Body Shop opposed animal testing and tried to encourage Third World development by purchasing materials from small communities in poorer countries. It founded a human rights award and invested in a wind farm in Wales as part of its campaign to promote renewable energy.

"Before Body Shop you could only find cruelty-free products in hippie shops — now they are everywhere," said People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals vice president Dan Mathews, who worked with Roddick on campaigns in the 1980s, when Body Shop became a global brand.

To read the rest of the article, click here.

Somewhere, there are people who aren't so happy that their niche has been commercialized, re-appropriated by corporations touting their intentions are for the greater good, the preservation of the flora and fauna of the planet...but in reality, it's all about making even more money. Because to sell a product, these companies must sell wardrobe styles, eating habits, and philosophical beliefs that capitalize on the proclivity for human beings to want to belong and be accepted by those who sit atop the throne of the cultural elite.

I realize that economic development and saving the Earth are not easy or simple tasks to undertake, and that more than a handful of groups are necessary for any kind of observable progress to be made (within our lifetime). Nonetheless, it isn't a cause for sustained celebration when something you called your own (or your community's own) is cloned or even taken from you because your own efforts are no longer (good) enough. Not to suggest that it's what happened with the Body Shop.

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May Mrs. Roddick rest in peace.

pic cred:

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Riposi In Pace Maestro Pavarotti

This morning my mom told me that famed Italian tenor Luciano Pavarotti has died. He was one of those rare artists that had such a warm vibe about him. I don't think I ever saw a picture or video of him where he wasn't smiling. I don't know much about famous opera singers, but I have loved opera ever since I saw a performance of Puccini's La Boheme on PBS when I was 13. I think I also am rather sentimental about opera because my great-grandfather was a little known opera singer during Caruso's time, and they say, had Caruso's style not been so popular, my ancestor would have been famous.

Pavarotti was one of kind not only because of the sheer drama and power of his voice, but also because he was so charismatic and accessible outside of the opera world. A common criticism of opera in the United States is that it, like classical ballet, or the symphony, is an upper middle class entertainment, inaccessible to most of society due to high ticket prices, fancy dress codes, and in opera's case, whole stories in a foreign language.

There have been many recent attempts to "humanize" opera, if you want to call it adding electronic subtitle screens above the stage, RENT, Elton John's revamp of Aida, or even having free outdoor showings of Metroplitan Opera performances via satellite feed.
Whether any of this will boost a new generation's interest or ticket sales I cannot say. But I can say that unlike Caruso, Callas, Sutherland, or even today's Bocelli, Pavarotti is a name the whole musical world knows. This may be because he was one of the first opera singers to branch out in a major way into collaborations with other non-opera or non-classical musicians.
Looking only on YouTube, I found Pavoratti singing with James Brown, Barry White, Queen, and U2 to name a few. It was Pavoratti's accessibility and willingness to participate in these kinds of musical endeavors (not to mention sing the 1990 World Cup theme) that opened the rest of the musical world to him and opera to the rest of the musical world.

And I give him credit (along with Sarah Brightman though she's not an opera singer) as the reason why Opera Babes, Il Divo, Charlotte Church, and other pop-opera acts have been even possible given the popularity of trash like "My Humps" and Clay Aiken ::shudder::.

I was quite shocked that Pavarotti had died, as all the press about him had said that although he was ill, he was remaining positive. His wife even seemed upbeat and sure about his recovery. Whether expected or no, he will be sorely missed for the international treasure that he was.
Riposi In Pace Maestro.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

"Men Want Hot Women, Study Shows"

According to a new study conducted in Germany, men go for good looks (you can find the article here).

The gist of this study is that men may say they want certain qualities in a partner, but when it all gets boiled down, they go for the attractive girls. While women are much pickier, they tend to go for guys with an attraction level equal to their perceived level of attraction. In conclusion, the woman's attractiveness affects both party's decision-making process.

To quote a friend: in other news "new study shows water is wet".

How is this news? How was this study even funded? How sheltered from the dating world do you have to be to not already intuitively know the above?

Our culture is abnormally obsessed with relationships. From the tabloids that spin random pictures of celebrities into drama-laden romances, to the plethora of dating sites; from speed-dating, to more expensive match-maker services; from magazines devoted to "brides", to the embittering national divide about gay marriage. Publishers and marketing wizards spend huge amounts of time, energy, and money on these topics and consumers are right there to scoop it all up. Check out the "Health" section of your local bookstore or library, and you will find a huge variety of self-help books devoted to attracting and keeping the "perfect mate." There are numerous articles written analyzing everything from how one's smell can affect attraction levels (pheromones), to how to use body language to send the right signals (shouldn't body language be subconscious and natural?). People are obsessed with not only their own love lives, but the love/sex lives of others (celebrities in particular).

And, we have another study and article focused on telling us that "looks matter."

I myself am not immune from this cultural obsession. I subscribe to a couple of dating sites (my Mom calls it a shopper's mentality - more on that in a minute). I've read Cosmo (10 ways to turn a man on!). I have a couple of dating books (What Men REALLY Want). I date. A lot--I've lost count of the number of first dates I've been on--and all in the search to find a good, lasting relationship. I am embarrassed to think of how much wasted time and energy I've invested in this search.


In our consumer-based society, we treat dating and love as something to "consume". We shop for it, in the same way that we would shop for clothes or a car. We do our research, try a variety on for size, and are always on the look-out for something better than what we have. We don't seem to be content or happy unless we have it, and even then, we're restless. We learn all we can about it, fascinated by those who seem to have it, and even more intrigued when it's lost. This mentality pushes us to spend millions if not billions of dollars on dates, books, magazines, websites, clothing, beauty products, etc. What a waste. And it never ends. There are always new books, new ways to make yourself more desirable, and more studies telling us what we (should) already know.

Enough is enough. When will you people just learn to RELAX? To get out there and live your life, and just let what happens, happen. Stop obsessing over every little detail of your own and others' love lives, and instead just have fun? If you find love - great! If you don't, at least you're still enjoying yourself. I don't necessarily believe in fate, but I do think that when you find the "right" fit, having your nails freshly done or wearing the imitation pheromone perfume or knowing that both men and women care about looks isn't going to change a thing. It's just going to click. You and him or her will simply work.

So please, stop feeding the machine that pumps out these ridiculous studies. Stop buying all of the books that will tell you things that you already know. Stop worrying about looking good for others, and simply look good for yourself. Stop shopping for a relationship. Have fun. Enjoy that wonder that is life. Love (and sex and maybe even marriage/children) will happen, but until it does - don't waste your time worrying and over-analyzing. What's the point? Don't wait for something to make you happy, be happy now.

Editor's Note: Shout hallelujah, Come on get happy.

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Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Happy Endings

The phrase "a happy ending" can mean very different things to women and men. For many women I know, a story has a happy ending if a guy and a girl end up together in a seemingly permanent relationship. And men, well, they call a "happy ending" a sexual favor given by a female masseuse after the massage-proper has been completed.

One could argue this is yet another example of how men and women's brains are dissilimar, or perhaps even how little girls and little boys are raised to conceptualize relationships and their world to different ends.

Everyone knows little girls are tucked in at night to stories of princes and princesses, of danger, and rescue, and maybe, if they're lucky, a little Dora the Explorer for good measure.

Peggy Ornstein wrote a fabulous article last year on the dilemma many parents of little girls face when confronted with the tsunamical princess culture in toy stores and children's media. Should perfectly confident, successful business women and feminist homemakers willingly expose their children to fairy tales written in the midst of a culture that considered women their husband's property?

True enough, the very same concept that tucks little girls in at night is an addiction practiced by adult women reading romance novels and watching their worn copies of Sleepless in Seattle--We are calmed, placated even, by the thought that all pretty ladies one day will have someone to take care of them.

Women needed happy endings, because for so many hundreds of years, to be tied to a man who cared about you and was able to provide for you was all that could be hoped for. And now, though a woman has a recognized right to express herself sexually however she chooses--though she has a right to a good education and a chance in the professional world--though she has a right to be completely financially and emotionally independent...chick lit is a major force in popular fiction.

And our daughters, perhaps better positioned than any Western women before them, to find a new happy ending for themselves, are felled by cartoons and cheap rayon dresses. It's possible all our efforts have been misdirected. Perhaps, we should be spending more time convincing our sons that a happy ending is being whisked away by a princess....

Thursday, August 16, 2007

I have to go Now; Let Me Alone

The Highly Sensitive Person.

Isn't the artist moody?
Isn't he a walking contradiction?
Embracing luscious colors and lights of the banquet hall
then reprimanding the renovators for all the racket.

What's wrong with that child?
Don't stand too close or she'll wail
and not other words would she speak
only cries when she's not well.

Perhaps they are "highly sensitive people" as Dr. Elaine Aaron would have call it.

I came across the title of her book The Highly Sensitive Person while I was making the rounds at my binary haunts. summarizes the book as follows:

Are you an HSP? Are you easily overwhelmed by stimuli? Affected by other people's moods? Easily startled? Do you need to withdraw during busy times to a private, quiet place? Do you get nervous or shaky if someone is observing you or competing with you? HSP, shorthand for "highly sensitive person," describes 15 to 20 percent of the population. Being sensitive is a normal trait--nothing defective about it. But you may not realize that, because society rewards the outgoing personality and treats shyness and sensitivity as something to be overcome. According to author Elaine Aron (herself an HSP), sensitive people have the unusual ability to sense subtleties, spot or avoid errors, concentrate deeply, and delve deeply. This book helps HSPs to understand themselves and their sensitive trait and its impact on personal history, career, relationships, and inner life. The book offers advice for typical problems. For example, you learn strategies for coping with overarousal, overcoming social discomfort, being in love relationships, managing job challenges, and much more. The author covers a lot of material clearly, in an approachable style, using case studies, self-tests, and exercises to bring the information home. The book is essential for you if you are an HSP--you'll learn a lot about yourself. It's also useful for people in a relationship with an HSP. --Joan Price

It's somewhat ironic that so many people are opposed to the idea of labels and don't subscribe to the practice of categorizing human behavior or tendencies because they want to be themselves without putting a name to it. And yet, scholars from all disciplines make their careers by analyzing chaos, honing in on patterns, and coming up with ways to manage an enormous amount of information--by creating labels. A lot of students might not understand why they have to learn about things that are so "common sense" or "I know all this....." they don't always realize that the learning process involves the internalization of terminology that helps them organize all the things they "already knew." Once something has a name, it suddenly becomes easier to manage.

Could the "highly sensitive person" be a way of allowing the rest of society engage more sympathetically with people who might otherwise simply be called moody, eccentric, weird, or temperamental?

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Edward Hopper's 1939 painting New York Movie

pic cred: google image search

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Belinda Luscombe on (romantic) comedies

I picked up the August 20, 2007 issue (Vol. 170 No. 8) of Time Magazine and read an educational and somewhat disheartening article about the future of the American romantic comedy.

Belinda Luscombe writes:

Love stories are old. They're universal. Nearly everyone has one. Which makes them nearly impossible to write well. This summer has brought us License to Wed, in which a couple is nearly driven apart by their wacky priest's marriage-prep course; I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry, in which Adam Sandler pretends to marry his firefighter buddy for health-insurance reasons; No Reservations, in which two competitive chefs fall in love; and Becoming Jane, in which Jane Austen has to choose between love and proper behavior. Coming in September is Good Luck Chuck, in which every girl Chuck sleeps with goes on to marry the next guy she meets. All of them, except the Austen, are what's known in the romance-novel business as HEAs (happily-ever-afters), and none of them are remotely stirring, although Good Luck Chuck is spectacularly off-putting. "Romantic comedies are backbreaking to write because they have to be fresh," says Mike Newell, director of Four Weddings and a Funeral and the upcoming Love in the Time of Cholera. "I've yet to find another one which was surprising enough to do."

But it's not just familiarity that breeds contempt for love stories. It may be actually getting harder to get people to believe in them, acknowledges Richard Curtis, writer of such indelible romances as Four Weddings and Notting Hill, because our expectations have changed. "If you write a story about a soldier going AWOL and kidnapping a pregnant woman and finally shooting her in the head, it's called searingly realistic, even though it's never happened in the history of mankind," he notes. "Whereas if you write about two people falling in love, which happens about a million times a day all over the world, for some reason or another, you're accused of writing something unrealistic and sentimental."

Luscombe mentions cultural and social changes over the last half century that may have affected the standard perception of romance and human interaction, which in turn likely makes romantic comedies harder to market. She also brings up the film Superbad (Greg Mottola, 2007) and remarks that it "is the purest iteration of the so-called bromance form yet. Two best friends, Seth and Evan, on the verge of graduating from high school, have to get booze, get over the fact that they're about to go their separate ways and get girls before the night is out."

At first, I thought, "Wow. Perhaps the (romantic) comedy formula is changing--no longer is it about heterosexual sexual love; maybe the next move is platonic love." But then, that kind of story could simply be a comedy or a drama. I also thought "bromance" was a pretty clever term....that is until I realized that Luscombe might be using a synonym for the "buddy film."

Luscombe briefly addresses the profit-driven facet of Hollywood that almost demands quality be sacrificed for novelty or an ingenious marketing campaign so that opening weekend draws the biggest crowds. She incorporates a reception studies point-of-view when pointing out that young men flock to the cinema in slightly higher numbers--and probably more frequently--than women. I know this article isn't (and isn't supposed to be) scientific in approach, but if there was an undertaking to investigate further whether or not the romantic comedy as a genre is truly dying or adapting to a new collective consciousness or if there simply hasn't been a really good script in a long while, more variables would have to be considered and controlled.

Unfortunately, when it comes to the public's cinema-going habits, I doubt that there could be a study scientific enough. We're talking about people's preferences in aesthetics, narrative, and ideology. However consistent some individuals' or demographics' behavior may be, there are too many "but's" in the question. Furthermore, to be more thorough, DVD rentals, purchases, and library lending patterns and tendencies would have to be examined too.

To read Belinda Luscombe's article in its entirety, please click here.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

The Mean Gene

Recently I was attending the wedding of two very close friends. After the joyful, and for me, slightly tearful ceremony, I joined the rest of the guests outside and was excitedly chatting the typical talk that comes with a marriage ceremony: how beautiful the bride looked, how happy the groom was, whether or not there would be food before dinner. I was wearing what my friends had deemed a “fairy dress—“ a sort of pink tulle dress that was light, airy and gave me a great deal of happiness. In other words, everything up to that point was perfect.

I then ran into an ex-colleague from my days in medical school, and after I gave him my obligatory hug—a half hug for the half-hearted since I already sensed a poor encounter—he asked me what I was doing with my life. I told him that I was beginning law school in the fall, and he said, “Oh, so you changed your mind again?” And he added behind it what the casual observer would call a snide little laugh, as if to make his comment appear as some fantastic joke.

That hit me with a jolt. “What do you mean?”
“Well, isn’t that why you left first year?”
“Yes, and then I came back…”
“And then you left again.”

At that point, I left the conversation. I felt his rudeness was extraordinary, and he deserved second class status. It was particularly striking that he—a student who had left his PhD program, worked as a lab technician for a number of years, and then returned to medical school at the age of 30—could be so judgmental of someone else’s choices. At twenty-five, I’m not exactly out with today’s trash. Now, of course he cannot be faulted for his ignorance of the circumstances surrounding my years in medical education. But he can be faulted as being someone who felt perfectly fine acting as an asshole.

Later on, I began to think about meanness. I like to think that I make an effort to be kind to everyone I meet. But I’m not perfect, and I know that I’ve been less than pleasant on more than one occasion. I began to wonder, is there some evolutionary explanation for cruelty?

It turns out there’s been some research on the issue by scientists as prominent as Frans de Waal. But there is very little that is black and white in terms of cruelty, or for that matter, in terms of any emotion. A seemingly unalterable social hierarchy can change with new developments in a community--one such example is when a non-dominant male chimp obtains meat, a highly valued commodity, leading to the normally dominant males to beg him for a share in the prize.

Many scientists also believe that cruelty requires a theory of mind—that is, an ability to empathize. A behavior cannot be cruel, or kind for that matter, if one is not aware of the implications of said behavior. This perhaps explains the release of endorphins, the hormones responsible for "highs," that so often accompanies a cruel act. After a hunt, for example, the smell of blood and the sight of suffering often triggers such a release. Frans De Waal describes a couple of examples that demonstrate the cruelty/empathy foil well: chimpanzees luring chickens with bread, only to poke and harm them with wire as compared to a bonobo’s attempt to help a fallen bird to fly by emulating the creature’s behavior. Cruelty and compassion, then, are yin and yang to each other.

So what about humans specifically? Humans are social creatures and have lived in groups for the entirety of their existence. While intra-group cruelty exists, it is perhaps more common to think of it as a survival tactic to be used by one group against another. Its place can still be seen worldwide, from the horrific— genocide, wars, and gang battles—to the seemingly banal—the playground, women’s society luncheons, and gangs in musicals. Pitting one group against another, picking on another’s vulnerabilities—these are all staples of both ancient and modern society.

I eventually related this information to my life by deciding that the person I described at the beginning of this essay must have felt that he had some highly prized commodity to wave over me—namely, his medical school education. This would throw off the typical social hierarchy of my innate superiority, though only temporarily, and he was able to behave cruelly and assume I wanted what he had. He could then deem himself as having an advantage over me and experience the pleasure that comes from the release of endorphins in the brain.

Of course, as humans, the trick is that we all have differing views of what’s valuable and what’s not, so the justification for his cruelty, as seen by me, was unfounded and made him look like a bit of a doofus. I think that for a person who only has a B.S. in biological anthropology, that’s a pretty good explanation. But then, if someone wants to pit their dominance over me at me, by all means, go ahead.

Editor's Note: To read more about Frans De Waal, please visit the following sites.

Emory University Bio

Frans De Waal at Amazon

Audio Interview

Short Time Magazine piece

Short piece from New Scientist

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Good Night & three pennies

Isn't there some adage about people dying in three's?

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Freshly baked from CNN:

ROME, Italy (Reuters) -- Michelangelo Antonioni, one of Italy's most famous and influential filmmakers, has died at the age of 94, city officials in Rome say.

Considered the cinematic father of modern angst and alienation, Antonioni had a career spanning six decades which included the Oscar-nominated "Blow-Up" and the internationally acclaimed "L'Avventura" (The Adventure).

His death on Monday night followed that of Swedish film legend Ingmar Bergman, who died on Monday aged 89.

"With Antonioni, not only has one of the greatest living directors been lost, but also a master of the modern screen," said Rome mayor Walter Veltroni Tuesday. His office said it was making plans for Antonioni's body to lie in state on Wednesday.

Antonioni's deliberately slow-moving and oblique movies were not always crowd pleasers but films such as "L'Avventura" turned him into an icon for directors like Martin Scorsese, who has described him as a poet with a camera.

Antonioni was born in 1912 in the northern Italian city of Ferrara. He directed his first feature, "Cronaca di un amore" ("Story of a Love Affair"), in 1950 at the age of 38.

Over the next two decades Antonioni worked with some of the greatest names in post-war Italian cinema like Marcello Mastroianni but it was not until the 1960s that he emerged on the international stage.

Read the rest of the article, press here

a few pertinent youtube clips:

Trailer from Criterion Collection edition.

Amazing long take from the film Professione: Reporter (1975)

Relevant articles from Senses of

Biographical piece by James Brown

Essay on L'Avventura by Gregory Solman

Discussion of Blowup by Jonathan Dawson

Film studies programs the world over need to brace themselves.
Any director who became famous or received critical acclaim just before or just after the world wars are going to make headlines within the decade.

pic cred: google image search

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Smooth Criminal and Funny Face club scene: the less obvious comparison

It is fitting to discuss Fred Astaire when analyzing Michael Jackson's dancing style. However, a less obvious comparison may be Audrey Hepburn. Note that she too wears white socks with high-water, skinny black trousers and black penny loafers. The club scene in the film Funny Face (Stanely Donen, 1957) and Michael Jackson's video for the song "Smooth Criminal" are deserving of a close, comparative study. Jackson does at times move with the grace of a true ballerina.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Victimless crimes?

I was searching "angry drivers" last night on youtube and came across this short clip:

Probation for throwing cup of ice into car
Judge decides against prison; woman was mad at driver she said cut her off

Updated: 3:26 p.m. ET Feb. 22, 2007

STAFFORD, Va. - A woman convicted of a felony for throwing a cup of ice into a car that cut her off in traffic was sentenced to probation instead of prison, a judge ruled Wednesday.

Jessica Hall faced between two and five years in prison after she was convicted last month of maliciously throwing a missile — the cup of ice — into an occupied vehicle. No one was injured in the incident last summer.

Read rest of article here: MSNBC

I was wondering what people think about prosecuting victimless crimes. I'm not sure what the legal definition of the term is (if there is one), but is it absolutely necessary to bring charges against someone who might have intended to harm but in the end nobody is physically hurt?

Or, is it a waste of taxpayer's money to prosecute someone when their actions--however stupid, mean or technically illegal--has no immediate negative consequences to anyone?

For instance, you take a can of coke and you want to throw it at someone's face but you miss. Nobody is hurt and no property is damaged. Or, you catch your wife cheating on you and in a moment of rage, take a plate and throw it at her. You miss and it hits the wall and breaks. Nobody is hurt. The wall is not damaged--it was your own plate you broke.

Ultimately, what should ever be put on trial? The outcome of a person's actions or the motivation and intentions of that person's actions? (not counting what the prosecution needs to prove in order to charge someone with murder vs. manslaughter, eg. motive OR/AND intent)

Im not suggesting that I think unsuccessful crimes should be dismissed. But, it's a thought-provoking issue.

A person cannot be arrested or prosecuted for thinking about doing something illegal--but they can be for attempting and failing to complete the doing of something illegal.

Ironically, very few people are rewarded for wanting to do something good and trying to do something good but failing at doing something good. Eg. teachers who wont give students brownie points for effort.

I wonder why that is. No good deed goes unpunished. No points for trying (unless youre trying to do something wrong and mean and evil).

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Jailhouse, Rocks...

Inmates in the Phillipines doing a choreographed routine of Michael Jackson's Thriller....

Apparently they've also done Queen...I think this is a hugely innovative way to boost morale and channel energy for jails. Not that I'm an expert on rehabilitation, or anything.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

You Stole My Face! or the world of celebrity twins

Two examples of celebrity twins.

The first set: Mia Kirshner (The L-Word, The Black Dahlia, Exotica) and Amy Adams (JuneBug).

Mia Kirshner on the Craig Ferguson Show.

Amy Adams on the Craig Ferguson Show.

The second set: Elias Koteas (Exotica, The Thin Red Line, Shooter) and Christopher Meloni (Law & Order: SVU, Oz, Runaway Bride).

Elias Koteas in Fallen (Gregory Hoblit, 1998)

Christopher Meloni talking about Law & Order: SVU

Come to think of it, they both look like Robert De Niro.

Originally posted at Sthemingway

pic creds: yahoo movies, google image search

Monday, July 9, 2007

From the archives: following up on Kate Bush

This is reprinted from a post from my live journal, dating May 5, 2006

For some reason, alternative British musician Kate Bush reminds me of experimental filmmaker Maya Deren, not just as a result of a somewhat striking physical resemblance, but the from what I've seen of Deren's Meshes in the Afternoon (1943), thematical similarities as well. So it was that sthemingway's post with the story reminded me of Un Chien Andalou (Luis Buñuel, 1929) and she brought up Maya Deren, and I remembered Kate Bush, and then I began to wonder what was up with her now. I check periodically every several months to see if there is any news from this brilliant, but very reclusive songstress. Much to my surprise, Kate had indeed recently released a new album, entitled Aerial, marking her first new musical foray in 12 years since The Red Shoes.

I love Kate Bush. I don't own all her albums, and I'm not sure why. Perhaps it's because her songs can be patchy, but when she's good, she's absolutely brilliant. The Hounds of Love is one of my favourite records ever, probably second ONLY to Fleetwood Mac's Rumours (this is understandable). The story goes that Bush was a protege of Pink Floyd's, in particular of David Gilmour, and that they helped bring her onto the British scene. Her U.S. commercial success was not so great and she goes unheard of here, minus some radioplay of "Running Up That Hill" in the 1980s and of "This Woman's Work" because it was on the soundtrack for that movie "She's Having a Baby." However, in London, I still hear the original version of "Wuthering Heights" and even "The Kick Inside" on the radio from time to time, and no doubt she ranks pretty high up there among 'best female musicians.' Sarah MacLachlan and Tori Amos owe quite a lot to her, as they have indicated.

I need a whole other post to talk about The Hounds of Love. It's a concept album; by then, concept albums weren't anything new. Pink Floyd themselves helped pioneer it with the just as brilliant, though not a favourite, The Dark Side of the Moon. However, what a concept album The Hounds of Love is. It's a 2-part album, with the second half a mystical journey through the mind of a woman who is drowning.

But back to Aerial. It's lovely and it's very soft. It's probably her best effort since The Hounds of Love and certainly her most thematically coherent. It's a thought piece on the cycles of life. While I loved individual songs on The Sensual World a lot more, that record was all over the place. No song on here is as good as that title track; however, as a whole, it's remarkable. Kate Bush's piano playing is rich & lovely to listen to among the sparse instrumental arrangements. My only hope is that Kate does not wait another 12 years to release a followup.